Thursday, Nov. 9, 2006
Paul Hatcher knows how to coach. His Lee High School team holds the state record of 85 consecutive wins, but his outstanding record happens outside the basketball court as well. Hatcher, like nine other Dawbarn Award winners, presented by the Community Foundation of the Blue Ridge at Wednesday evening’s annual ceremony, also knows how to inspire — how to take a raw grain and help it blossom. [What Great Teachers Do Differently: Fourteen Things That Matter Most]
“Year after year, Paul Hatcher turns average players into good players, good players into great players, and finds ways to make full use of whatever talents a player has to contribute significantly to the team’s success,” said Pam Huggins, board member and chairman of the selection committee for the foundation. “Our cup runneth over. We are grateful to these exceptional human beings.”
The 14th annual awards ceremony honored public education efforts in the area by recognizing and rewarding individuals who demonstrated exceptional dedication, motivation and commitment to students; exceeding normal standards of professional or volunteer performance.
In addition to public recognition, each winner received a $6,900 award.
“Many times I think educators are not recognized,” said Roderic Owen, religion professor at Mary Baldwin College and Staunton School Board member. “The symbolic recognition and the monetary recognition is important.”
By honoring each student through a helping hand and a caring heart, no matter what their social class or academic ability, the foundation honors its community.
“Not a single teacher gets into teaching for the money or for awards,” said Dan Bledsoe, award winner and Waynesboro High School teacher and swim coach. “The kids of today can do great things — we just have to keep raising the bar.”
For Donna Wells, teen pregnancy prevention outreach coordinator, this message of hope and personal responsibility is paramount. As she accepted her award, Wells said that she tells kids everyday that people make mistakes and you move on.
“The youth in this area know that when they need advice or information, Donna Wells is someone they can talk to,” Huggins said. “She believes in them, and shows them how to believe in themselves.”
Wells, like the other nine winners emphasized that her love of teaching is a passion. [Teaching With Love and Logic: Taking Control of the Classroom]
She said, as her voice carried to the farthest corners of the room, tears rolling down her face, “I love what I do and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Friday, Oct. 27, 2006
A teacher who suffered a stroke while in a day-care classroom got to thank the student who called 911 and helped save her.
Renee Thompson has been through a lot.
“It was really rough I have to say,” Thompson said.
She has to learn to do everything all over again, things such as walking, talking, reading and writing.
But she said she is just thankful she is even alive to face these challenges.
“My hero. Yeah, I consider him my hero,” Thompson said.
That hero is 9-year-old student Jerry Richards. He stopped by Monday for a surprise visit.
“How you been doing?” Thompson asked.
I’ve been doing good,” Jerry said.
Thompson worked at a day-care center. In August, she was the only adult in a room full of children when she had a stroke, collapsed and Jerry took over. He kept the children calm, called 911 and comforted his teacher.
“He had me by the arm and said, ‘Miss Renee, just be good. When they come, it’s going to be all right,’ and that made me feel good,” Thompson said.
“I’m really proud that I reacted so fast to save her life,” Jerry said.
He gave her a second chance, and although she still has a long way to go, her hero will be there for her every step of the way.
Thompson spent more than a month recovering in the hospital.
She still has to go through physical, speech and occupational therapy several times a week.
Her doctors said it would be about one year before she can go back work at the day-care center.
Ron Clark was right at home Thursday with an after-school group at the Boys & Girls Club. The former teacher of the year danced and laughed with the students who, at first, seemed taken aback by the antics of this stranger in a suit and tie.
Clark, who was Disney’s American Teacher of the Year in 2000, was the keynote speaker at the fourth annual Futures 4 Kids gala, which benefits the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County.
But Clark’s comic mannerisms, which he used to gain the attention and respect of disadvantaged students in both North Carolina and New York City’s Harlem community, were included later that evening in his remarks at the gala.
His story recently was chronicled in a made-for-TV movie on the TNT cable network starring Matthew Perry as Clark.
Clark, who was named a “Phenomenal Man” by talk show host Oprah Winfrey, has made two appearances on her top-rated talk show. The first came after a call to his New York apartment, and his immediate reply was “Oprah who?”
However, Winfrey’s glowing endorsement of “The Essential 55,” Clark’s collection of 55 rules for the classroom, catapulted the book to the top of the charts. The book is a New York Times bestseller and is in its 11th printing.
He did not miss an opportunity to express his concern about the current direction of education.
“All across the country, teachers are teaching to the test,” Clark said. “It’s all about worksheets, and kids are bored.”
Clark said that creativity in the classroom works.
“We try to show that you can be creative and innovative and not only do you raise test scores, but you’re setting a good example. If we don’t, we’re going to end up with a society of adults who test well but don’t want to be lifelong learners,” he said.
Clark currently is in the process of opening a private school in Atlanta for students from low-wealth areas. He said he plans to open the school in January.
Perry, the Emmy award-winning actor who portrayed Clark, is among those serving on the new school’s board of directors.
Also recognized at the event was Michael Holeman, the club’s Youth of the Year.
Holeman, 17, a senior at Gainesville High, is the son of Terrence and Joy Holeman.
Barkley Geib, who has donated pontoon boats as a prize for the club’s annual “Rubber Duck Derby” was the recipient of the Helping Hands Award, which is presented annually to an individual, group or organization which has offered outstanding service to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County.
Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006
Emilia Bankston doesn’t like spending time away from her third-grade classroom, so she probably didn’t relish the idea of a schoolwide assembly early Tuesday afternoon.
But the assembly was just a ruse.
The reason students, teachers, and state and district education officials gathered in the auditorium at West Elementary School was so Bankston could receive a national education award. She looked dazed as her name was announced as the recipient of this year’s Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award.
“I’m very honored,” she said when the clapping and cheering stopped after several minutes. “Without your support we wouldn’t have the school we do.”
The Milken Family Foundation, based in Santa Monica, Calif., gives out awards each year in 48 states and the District of Columbia. The other Mississippi winner was Jennifer Chandler of Pierce Street Elementary in Tupelo.
Richard Sandler, from the Milken Family Foundation, and state Superintendent Hank Bounds presented the award to Bankston.
Both winners received $25,000 and a trip to Washington, D.C., next spring for the national education conference presented by the foundation.
Bankston, 35, has been teaching at West for 10 years, ever since she graduated from college. She received her bachelor’s in education from the University of Southern Mississippi and her master’s in education from William Carey.
“She’s the best teacher in the world!” her students proclaimed as they clung to her after the ceremony.
Bankston said she wasn’t really sure why she received the award, but she definitely appreciates the honor.
“I think I’m always willing to strive for excellence in life and education, and I try to teach that to my students,” she said, also crediting her fellow teachers and principal for their help.
“At West we work as a team, and we’ve been fortunate to have good teachers here.”
Principal Scott Powell said he wasn’t surprised at all that Bankston was chosen.
“She has an intense passion and dedication to the kids,” he said. “I’ve never known a teacher who gets to know her kids the way she does.”
Mississippi has participated in the foundation’s educator program since 1991, and since then 59 teachers have received the award.
Thursday, Oct. 5, 2006
We know from experience the impact teachers can have on a child’s life. Our parents, both teachers, helped us with math and science, but also taught us about the importance of helping others and facing challenges in life if we want to succeed. They did the same for their students.
We’ve all had teachers who have had a positive influence over us. Whether it was the person who refused to give up on us, who motivated us, or who lent us an ear when we needed it, everyone has been touched by a teacher.
They are unsung heroes.
As we celebrate World Teachers’ Day today, it is important to remember who the real heroes are. UNESCO, which sponsors World Teachers’ Day, encourages everyone to say “thank you” to a teacher who made a difference in their lives.
So on that note, Craig would like to thank his Grade 9 and 10 teacher Jack Nigro, who spent countless hours helping him catch up on the work Craig missed while fighting for children’s rights around the world.
Marc would like to thank Lou Paonessa, the Grade 10 and 11 teacher who, through drama and the school newspaper, gave Marc new outlets for his endless energy.
In our travels we have met many heroes — educators who go far beyond the call of duty, despite danger and even possible death, to change the world. Imagine what their students would say to them.
Like the teacher Craig met in Saudi Arabia who faced strict restrictions because she was a woman — she needed permission from her father just to spend the day with a male — but still found the courage to promote female empowerment to her students. They would thank her for defying her country and an extremist interpretation of her religion to be a role model, even in the face of oppression.
Or Tompo, a teacher Free the Children staff met recently in Kenya. His constant smile and reassuring words made students feel like they could achieve anything. They would thank him for giving them hope when everything seemed hopeless.
But few teachers have faced as much peril as the ones we’ve met in Sierra Leone. This West African country was gripped by an 11-year civil war, where brutal cases of murder, rape and disfigurement were fuelled by a lust for control over the lucrative diamond industry there.
More than 7,000 children, some as young as 7, were forced to join the rebel movement. They were often drugged and made to kill their parents. We were horrified to learn how they were “enlisted.”
When the rebels entered a village for the first time, they immediately went to the local school. They rounded up all the teachers and executed them in front of the students. Why? Because they saw the teachers as “wisdom keepers” who had the ability to turn the population against their hateful ideology.
The rebels knew that ignorance and hate go hand-in-hand. To have young people do their bidding, they needed to make sure the children were unable to make their own decisions. To do that, they killed the teachers.
They knew the power of education.
When world leaders met at the UN in 2000 and crafted eight goals aimed at making the world a better place — known as the Millennium Development Goals — it was no surprise that achieving universal education was one of them.
The sad reality is that nearly 120 million children do not attend school, the vast majority of them being in Africa and South Asia. This loss impacts society as a whole. By providing a proper education for all, we can break the cycle of poverty, empower women and combat HIV/AIDS. Not to mention foster democracy and promote peace and understanding.
Teachers are the ones who make this happen.
It’s no wonder Stephen Lewis, the UN’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, recently said, “education is the solution to everything.”
Friday, Sep. 29, 2006
During most of her long life, Roberta Langtry was an unassuming elementary school teacher in Toronto.
She always shied away from the limelight and spent many years during her career trying to help autistic children with their speaking difficulties. But Miss Langtry, who died last year at the age of 89, carried an unusual financial secret that has been revealed only through her death.
Unknown to almost everyone who knew her, including her closest friends, the modestly paid teacher was really a closet multimillionaire, who through a bequest has given what is believed to be the largest donation from an individual to an environmental cause in Canada.
Miss Langtry asked that more than $4.3-million of her estate be given to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, a charity that buys environmentally sensitive land and turns it into nature reserves.
All the details on how Ms. Langtry amassed her nest egg aren’t known. Her will contained other sizable gifts to charity and she made many donations to causes she believed in throughout her life, but her estate’s executor, Robert Borden, declined to give her net worth.
While she was alive, she also made a number of large, anonymous gifts to individuals she knew who were down on their luck. These must have shocked the recipients when they opened envelopes and found an unknown benefactor had sent them cheques for $25,000 or $30,000.
It’s unlikely she was suspected as the source of this generosity because she lived very plainly for someone with ample and growing cash balances.
She lived in a modest one-storey East Toronto home. Mr. Borden said he had quite a time trying to persuade Miss Langtry to part with a 15-year-old Volvo in the mid 1990s. Miss Langtry didn’t like cars and frequently lamented that there were too many of them around.
She never married, had no children and didn’t have the advantage of inherited wealth. In fact, she provided support for several indigent elderly aunts during her life.
Yet even in middle age she was already well off because in 1973 she approached Mr. Borden, then an executive at a Bay Street stockbroker, and asked him to manage her $500,000 in savings, a sizable sum in the days before high inflation eroded the value of money.
Mr. Borden, whose great uncle was the former Prime Minister of the same name, remembers Miss Langtry made a prescient investment call by buying shares of IBM in either the 1940s or 1950s, and kept the stock in the high-tech giant until she died.
But other than that, Mr. Borden said he had her put most of her money into safe bond investments and solid Canadian blue-chip stocks, such as those of the banks and insurance companies, that appreciated nicely over the decades.
Miss Langtry had a bit of a gambler’s streak and sometimes wanted to invest in companies involved in anti-pollution work, but Mr. Borden said he had her limit these more risky ventures to a conservative 10 per cent of her portfolio.
Although grade-school teachers were not well paid before the 1970s, Miss Langtry may have had a modest side income because she developed a number of educational games, based on puzzles, that were sold in the United States.
She began teaching around the age of 16, and did the job for 55 years.
Enid Crush, her next-door neighbour and a close friend, said she had no idea Miss Langtry was well off. She didn’t dress or live ostentatiously and was always frugal in her use of heating and electricity for energy conservation reasons.
But when it came to charitable giving, Miss Langtry did provide clues of greater means. Ms. Crush would go every year collecting for the March of Dimes charity along her street and Miss Langtry always gave the largest donation.
“She’d write a cheque for $300. I said, ‘Roberta, most people, if I’m lucky, give $10.’ It was things like that that she did. She was very, very generous to charity,” Ms. Crush said.
In philanthropic circles, environmental groups have always been poor cousins compared with hospitals and universities, which frequently garner headline grabbing multimillion-dollar donations from wealthy Canadians.
So staff at the conservancy were stunned when Mr. Borden called and coyly asked: “Do you know how much I’ll be sending you?” He then entertained a guess on the amount, before revealing the seven-figure number.
Helen Kim, who handles inquiries from people who donate to the organization and took the call, was taken aback by the unexpected news. “I was dumbfounded,” she said.
Because the conservancy had never received such a large amount, Lynn Gran, the vice-president of philanthropy, said there were fears at first that someone had called them by mistake. “We weren’t entirely sure if it was true, or not,” she said.
But there was no mistake, and Miss Langtry’s legacy is being feted by the conservancy, which is issuing a news release on the donation today. It plans to use the money to buy more wetlands and help safeguard the Oak Ridges Moraine, a pastoral rural area north of Toronto that Miss Langtry held dear and is the subject of large-scale conservation efforts in the province.
Miss Langtry was passionate about the environment, but didn’t seek recognition for donations she made to the conservancy while she was alive. Starting in 1988, she gave about $5,000 to $10,000 a year.
She declined invitations to events the organization held to showcase properties it helped preserve from development. Ms. Kim said she would, however, call the conservancy if she thought mailings to donors were too glossy. Miss Langtry called this a waste of money and wanted something more plain.
Up until now, the largest donation the conservancy has had from an individual was about $1-million. Ms. Gran called other major environmental groups, such as Greenpeace and Ducks Unlimited, and found that they hadn’t had similar gifts.
Wednesday, Sep. 20, 2006
When Jackie Cooke’s students learn to divide, they start by drawing a half-sized “Mini-Me” to share their hairstyle and taste in clothes. When they discover angles in her West Gresham Grade School classes, they contemplate a daredevil skateboarder from the class spinning 180s and 360s.
This is the secret to triggering a child’s confidence with numbers, said Cooke, named Oregon’s 2006-07 Teacher of the Year Tuesday by Superintendent Susan Castillo. Help them relax and have fun, so they can discover an innate sense of how math works.
Tristan Heartley, 10, said math was hard until Cooke was his teacher in second and third grades, giving him extra help during recess and after class. Now, he’s in fifth grade. And math?
“It’s pretty easy,” he said.
He’s not alone. Parent Lesli Uebel said Cooke’s class, which explored math using everything from salmon eggs to poetry, was a turning point for her daughter Carly, now in eighth grade.
“Jackie sort of took away the fear of math for her and showed her she could do it,” Uebel said. “She stimulated curiosity in the kids. It wasn’t just a rote ‘Blah, blah, blah.’ She made learning fun.”
Cooke said she loved teaching as soon as she started elementary school. She’d hurry home from class and teach her little sister everything she’d learned that day. As a young parent intrigued by her three children’s developing minds, she switched her studies at Portland State University to focus on elementary education.
Now a veteran, Cooke teaches other teachers, helping them develop confidence in their math abilities so they can pass that confidence to their students. Recently, she cut back her time in the classroom to do more professional development.
“There is as much a need for a ‘numeracy’ movement in the elementary schools as there has been a focus on literacy,” she wrote in her application for the award.
Cooke’s work is the backbone of the K-5 math curriculum map for the Gresham-Barlow School District, said West Gresham Principal Debra James. She also is a consultant and a co-editor of TOMT, the professional journal of the Oregon Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Over the past 15 years, she has taught teachers at workshops throughout the state and country.
Cooke speaks passionately about studies that show U.S. students falling behind in math and science and how good elementary teachers are essential to turning that around.
The idea is backed by Intel, which wants “to bring the world’s educational systems into step with the needs of the world’s technology-based economy,” said Morgan Anderson, education relations manager at Intel Oregon. Intel sponsored Cooke’s $3,000 award, the first time the state has been able to give a cash prize.
“How many of you like math?” Anderson asked at Tuesday’s whole-school award assembly, where roughly half the students had taken a class from Cooke.
Their raised hands filled the room.
Tuesday, Sep. 19, 2006
“In this part of my blog, I’m going to tell you how I use modern day technology in my daily life. Well, first off, I begin my day by waking up, thanks to my alarm clock.”
That’s how one of Ben Goodman’s Cimarron Springs Elementary students started off an online journal known as a blog.
Goodman, a technology teacher, sees each class only twice a year, for three weeks at a time. He has to help students internalize what he teaches so it isn’t forgotten.
“I try to have them write about what they’re learning about,” said Goodman, who has been teaching in the Dysart Unified School District for 30 years. “The concept here is if you really internalize the concept, then you should be able to explain it to someone else.”
So Goodman combined teaching with technology to accomplish that goal.
“In my experience, when someone is writing and they know someone else will read it, they write better,” Goodman said.
The Web logs, or blogs, are posted on the Internet so that students can log on to read each other’s entries and make comments.
Goodman’s efforts in the classroom recently earned him the TeachersFirst Class Blogs Award from TeachersFirst.com, a Web resource for K-12 teachers.
“As the inaugural recipient of this honor, (Ben) Goodman is being recognized for actively using a classroom blog with students to facilitate student understanding, encourage writing expression and promote good writing skills,” said Candace Hackett Shively, director of K-12 at NITV, the parent company of TeachersFirst, in a statement.
But Goodman’s efforts don’t stop in the classroom – now he’s helping other teachers learn how to use the blogs so that they can continue with what he has taught their students.
“Quite a number of teachers . . . have formed their own blogs, and that’s what’s going to really change things,” Goodman said.
And students enjoy it, he said. It’s a real application of what they’re learning.
“I do think it helps,” he said. “You have a real audience. You stay a little sharper.”
And Goodman has to stay sharp as well, in a field that is always changing. He subscribes to newsletters and magazines to keep up on technology’s cutting edge. These new trends include wikis, collaborative, interactive Web sites, and podcasting, which is a way of distributing audio or video files over the Internet to mobile devices and personal computers.
Goodman adapts those cutting-edge ideas and brings them into the classroom.
“I think the job of technology . . . is to transform the way you teach, not to make little minor changes,” he said.
It takes a special principal to hush 2,000 teenagers in an echoey gymnasium — especially without being there.
Doherty High School’s Jill Martin walked into a silent gym Monday morning where students, colleagues, family and friends surprised her with news that she has been named the 2007 National High School Principal of the Year.
Martin had been lured away from the school for a business breakfast as hundreds of people, including school band members, packed the gym.
When she returned, her secretary told her there was an emergency in the gym involving scoreboard equipment. Martin didn’t take the bait, so the story was embellished: A student had fallen in the gym.
Instead of paramedics, she was greeted by cameras and cheers.
“This is one of the few times in my life where I honestly have to say I don’t know what to say,” she told the crowd.
Principal at Doherty since 1999, Martin was selected from among hundreds by the National Association of Secondary School Principals and MetLife, which together coordinate and fund the award. She received a $5,000 grant for the school or for professional training.
Martin was honored for a lengthy list of accomplishments, from improving student attendance and decreasing the dropout rate to implementing several programs.
Principals were judged on their leadership, academics and people skills. State winners were chosen this year, and a national judging panel selected and interviewed three finalists.
Martin has a reputation among students as being a good listener. “She’s like one of us,” said sophomore Gloria Angel. “She’s secretly a student.”
Sarah-Rose Gundel, a senior, attended middle school in New York before coming to Doherty. She went from feeling like a number to a person, she said. “I was tearing up in the bleachers when I saw her walk out,” Gundel said.
Martin spoke to The Gazette last week about her status as one of three national finalists, not knowing she was the winner. She said she was honored to have gotten so far when she considered the competition. “I’ve been around long enough to know how many good high school principals there are,” she said.
She also happens to live with one of them. Her husband, Paul, is principal at Cheyenne Mountain High School and was Wyoming’s principal of the year in 1984 — a time when there wasn’t a national competition for state winners.
Her husband is her mentor, Martin said. She bounces ideas off him at home.
The journey to becoming National High School Principal of the Year began last school year when she was nominated for the Colorado award.
Maybe it began further back than that, Martin mused. She said she ran “schools” in her backyard as a youngster, charging 25 cents to conduct activities for younger kids, which she now realizes parents saw as cheap baby-sitting.
She said she didn’t have plans to be a teacher at that point.
That came later, when she watched her brother — who has gone on to a successful career in television — drop out of school. She wanted to find out what made him dislike school, which she loved.
She became an English teacher 37 years ago and said she’s “getting there” when it comes to answering the question about why some kids don’t want to go to school.
In her doctoral dissertation, she found that truant students wanted to be successful at school but didn’t think it was possible.
They were the same students who didn’t necessarily qualify for special programs at school to help them be successful, she said.
That’s driven her mission to start new programs, including one in which students periodically meet with teachers or advisers to set goals, review their academic progress and draft improvement plans.
Another program, Spartan Connection, provides groups of 30 students with a chance to meet weekly with two adults to talk about anything on their minds.
“The goal there is to personalize our school,” Martin said.
All students should feel they have at least one adult who is an advocate for them at school, she said. That adult may be a teacher, the custodian or Martin, who has a group that meets during Spartan Connection time.
About 130 Doherty students take elective classes that teach skills to make them more successful in college in a program initiated by Martin.
Teachers and counselors say Martin’s focus on the students never seems to waver, and she fosters a team environment where teachers talk regularly about students and learning and how to improve them.
“She’s always there to recognize when students do well,” said Doherty band director David Williams.
Friday, Sep. 15, 2006
Anna Panchekha knew that her students had what it took to succeed. They just needed the right equipment to do it, thought Panchekha, a chemistry teacher at Montclair High School.
Since joining MHS’s team of teachers in 2003, Panchekha realized that her chemistry students weren’t working with modern laboratory equipment that could be used to prove theories and illustrate lectures.
It was even more apparent when her high school students would attend annual statewide science competitions.
“We felt that we were at a disadvantage compared to other schools,” Panchekha told The Times. “The kids are great and they have a lot of potential, but sometimes they don’t have the tools they need.”
Now, things are changing.
Since last year, Panchekha has been awarded more than $12,000 for her classroom endeavors and has been named a “hero” by a company that recognizes the nation’s most innovative educators. Though the money has helped Panchekha purchase lab equipment — projectors, scales, hot plates and probe ware — her journey isn’t yet complete.
There’s more tasks remaining to accomplish, she said.
It all started last school year when Panchekha was on maternity leave. Though she was preparing for her second child to arrive, Panchekha also used the time away from work to plan new curricula and devise a way she could receive additional funds to purchase lab equipment for her students.
That was when a parent, Suzanne Newman, encouraged the high school teacher to apply for local and federal grants. At the time, the deadline was quickly approaching for a grant from the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence, a community organization supporting the township’s public schools.
“Suzanne encouraged me the whole way through. She saw that the students were very interested and a little more equipment for them would bring in more interest in the class,” Panchekha said. “Without her, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. Teachers and parents are much stronger together than when we are separate.”
Not too long after Panchekha applied for the grant, she received a notice that the MFEE awarded her $10,000.
Panchekha then applied for the 2006 ING Unsung Heroes awards program. The program recognizes kindergarten through 12th grade educators nationwide for their innovative teaching methods, creative educational projects and ability to make positive influences on the students they teach.
She decided to create a project that would help students understand the environmental impact of nuclear activities and radiation.
After all, there was a local radium problem in town.
For the past 20 years, Montclair, along with Glen Ridge and West Orange, dealt with radioactive waste contamination originating from an old factory that manufactured luminous watch dials in the 1920s. The company’s waste was used as landfill in low-lying areas of the towns, and homes were subsequently built on top of the fill.
An EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) Superfund remediation program was designed and implemented and lasted for more than 15 years. The program, which was completed last year, cost about $220 million.
“This incident could be used as motivation to discuss this type of science more,” Panchekha said.
This summer, she was named as one of 100 winners in the nation who would receive a $2,000 award to help fund their innovative ideas.
Panchekha said the funds would be used for purchasing ultraviolet probes and radiation monitors. This school year, she hopes to begin the environmentally focused curriculum, which includes student group research on nuclear power, radon, UVA and UVB radiation, fieldwork to determine background radiation in different locations in Montclair, and laboratory exercises examining ways to protect people from UV radiation exposure.
“I’m hoping that someone will get into the project and maybe want to do this in the future,” she said.
There’s also more money coming to Montclair High School from the Toshiba American Foundation. Panchekha recently applied for and received a grant so that her students could take a closer look at consumer products.
“I want us to go to a pharmacy and see what is a true and what is a myth. We want to compare brand-named products with others,” she said. “I want to show the students about educational testing and how chemistry is more relevant in life.”
Panchekha expects the grant to be around $4,000.
Though the chemistry teacher is taking time off from applying for more grants, she admits that there are more things Montclair High School’s Science Department needs. From new or old lab equipment to speakers in the chemistry field, Panchekha hopes that others in the community will see the need to help their local high school.
Thursday, Sep. 14, 2006
Judy and Charlie Hunt arrived at Hickory Elementary School in Bel Air just before 10 a.m. yesterday and were whisked into the teachers lounge.
For more than a week, they had kept a secret from their daughter, Diana Kolego, a teacher at the Harford County school, and they didn’t want to blow it now, minutes before the ceremony.
Finally, they were led into the gymnasium and stood behind their daughter. They tried to blend in, but Kolego spotted them. Judy Hunt quickly came up with a story about them making a donation for the playground.
“I didn’t think anything of that,” said Kolego, a 34-year-old Bel Air resident. “That made me think the assembly was about the playground.”
In fact, the Hunts had come to see their daughter receive the No Child Left Behind 2006 American Star of Teaching award. Established in 2004, the honor is given annually to one teacher in each state by the U.S. Department of Education to recognize teachers who demonstrate effective teaching practices. More than 4,000 teachers nationwide were nominated this year.
Although Kolego was aware she had been nominated by a colleague, she was flabbergasted when her name was called during the assembly, which was attended by third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders, as well as faculty and staff members. Kolego put her hand to her mouth and sat motionless for a few moments before walking to the front of the gym to accept the award and a dozen red roses.
“My stomach is shaking, and I am completely shocked,” she said after receiving the award. “The rest of the day, I’ll be floating.”
Norma Garza, the senior adviser to the U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, presented the award to Kolego.
“The award is given to teachers that go above and beyond her teaching requirements to help children learn,” Garza said.
During her 10 years as a teacher, including the past four at Hickory, Kolego has undertaken several activities aimed at enhancing the learning process for her pupils. She started a project in which her fourth-graders write and publish a book. The activity culminates with an “author’s brunch” during which the pupils read their stories to their parents and share some delicacies.
“The program has gained such popularity that all the children in her class participate, and now even other teachers are doing brunches and teas,” Hickory Principal Gail Connolly said.
In addition to initiating activities that make learning fun, Kolego tries to connect with her pupils.
“No matter how you teach a child, whether it’s getting to know their interests, or what they do in their spare time, it has to be a positive interaction,” Kolego said. “When I help a student who is struggling with reading or any schoolwork, I try to tell them that if they are trying, that’s all that matters. And it makes learning more fun for them.”
Nine-year-old Jeffrey Lofurno said he felt like bragging when his teacher’s name was announced.
“I wanted everyone to know I have the best teacher,” the Bel Air resident said.
Andria Sorrentino, who attends Towson University and is a student teacher at Hickory, said she feels fortunate to have Kolego as a mentor.
“I have never worked with a teacher with such a great passion for teaching,” said Sorrentino, 26. “There’s a lot to learn from her. And this award proves that other people think the same thing.”
Monday, Aug. 21, 2006
Teaching science was only supposed to be a temporary job for Deborah Drab.
The now 22-year veteran of Long Beach Unified School District schools had been teaching elementary school early in her career when her principal at the time asked if she would take over the science program. Although she knew only a little about the life and earth sciences and even less about physical science, she agreed. She said she figured she’d do it for a couple of years as she decided what she really wanted to do. In those couple of years, though, she found her calling.
“Science is what I enjoyed the most,” said Drab, who currently teaches sixth grade at Tincher K-8 School in east Long Beach. “I think it’s important for teachers to be excited about what they do.”
Others have noticed her love of science. Recently Drab was named as a California finalist for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST), a Congressionally-mandated awards program that is considered the highest honor in those teaching fields.
Each state and United States territory is allowed to nominate three math and three science teachers for consideration, with one from each subject from each state and territory ultimately being selected. The prize is $10,000 from the National Science Foundation, which administers the program, as well as professional development seminars, and teaching tools donated by sponsor corporations and government agencies.
“I could think of a zillion things I could do for my classroom with that money,” Drab said this week during a break teaching the Young Scientists Camp on the campus of California State University, Long Beach.
Such an award would mean many more trips to Home Depot, where Drab often finds materials that her classes will use in various experiments. She said she often wanders the warehouse looking for inspiration for her next experiment.
“I’m always looking for new ideas. I never do things straight from the book,” she said. “I know the concepts I want to teach, so I’m always looking for new ways to teach them.”
These experiments are a major part of her class. She said she truly believes in hand-on learning.
“Science is not reading out of books. True, scientists are doing research, but scientists aren’t just reading books. My students are scientists,” she said as her young scientists at science camp prepared to design and build bridges that would span 24 inches and could hold 10 pounds. “I want them to do it themselves. I know the kids, they get something out of it.
“The think that makes me feel really good is when I see former students who have become teachers and they tell me, ‘The reason I’m a teacher is because of you.’”
The process of applying for consideration as a PAEMST finalist turned out to be a beneficial one for Drab. She admitted that she almost didn’t do it because she only had a week to complete the application. She changed her mind, saying that she did so just to go through the exercise.
“I thought it would be good for me to do. It forced me to reflect on my teaching. I’m pleased with having done that,” Drab said.
Drab won’t find out until sometime in early 2007 if she will be chosen as the science teacher awardee for California. Until then, she and the five other California finalists will be honored by the state Department of Education in November.
Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2006
Granby Junior-Senior High School eighth-grade English teacher Joan Vohl Hamilton, who will start her 27th year of teaching this fall, has worked in seven different schools.
“I’ve taught in a lot of different places and that has made me a stronger teacher,” the 53-year-old Vohl Hamilton said during a recent interview at her Hadley Street home.
Apparently, the state Department of Education agrees. She was one of six semifinalists for its 2007 Teacher of the Year Award, and the only semifinalist from Western Massachusetts. The state Teacher of the Year is Jessie Auger, a first-grade bilingual education teacher in Boston.
And this is not the first time Vohl Hamilton has been recognized for her work in the class- TeacherHP18HP1room. In 1997, she was the recipient of a $25,000 teaching award from the Milken Family Foundation.
Locally, she has also taught at Fairview Veterans Memorial and Bellamy middle schools in Chicopee, Rebecca M. Johnson School and Chestnut Middle School in Springfield and Federal Street Schools in Greenfield. She also taught sixth grade at White Township Consolidated School in Belvidere, N.J.
“If I made a change, it was because I was looking for a different type of leadership and I’m really glad I’ve made all the changes I’ve made,” Vohl Hamilton said.
The teacher said she found that type of leadership in Mary A. McDowell, who this year stepped down as principal at Granby Junior-Senior High School.
“She supported excellence in the classroom,” Vohl Hamilton said. “She was supportive of whatever was right for students.”
Vohl Hamilton, who grew up on a chicken farm in New Jersey, came to the area in the early 1980s to work in public relations at Milton Bradley Co. in Springfield after teaching awhile in her home state.
She recalled that she was always rushing to the defense of teachers when they would be bashed and after about two years, decided to return to the field.
“I thought, ‘you know, anybody can do this,’ but not everybody is a teacher, so I went back,” Vohl Hamilton said.
As for her decision, Vohl Hamilton said, “I love teaching. I love it. I love that you’ve got to play so many roles.”
She said being a teacher is like being the consummate actor because you must always be able to convey a sense of enthusiasm about your subject no matter what kind of day or personal problem you might be having.
Vohl Hamilton said she keeps her students writing as much as possible, so wherever she goes, she always has lots of papers to grade. She estimated she puts in an additional four hours of work beyond the school day, a practice she said she believes is common among conscientious teachers.
Vohl Hamilton stated that it was not until she married in 1987 that she could stop moonlighting to make ends meet on a teacher’s salary. Her husband is Walter A. Hamilton, a copy editor at The Republican.
As for the future, Vohl Hamilton said she is happy where she is now but that there may be one more move in teaching for her.
“I’ve never taught in Holyoke,” she said.
Thursday, Aug. 3, 2006
Just because he caught three fish in a row didn’t mean Willie was going near any of them.
“Ewwww. Gross,” he said.
C’mon, his teacher urged, take a picture with your catch.
In the photos, soon-to-be ninth-grader Willie stands rigid, arms against his sides, hands nowhere near the slick, 6-inch brim dangling beside him.
Most kids would be thrilled to hook so many fish on a camping trip with their whole school.
But it’s different when you’re deeply depressed. Or bipolar. Or schizophrenic.
Later, at the award ceremony, he buried his head in his hands, crumpling a certificate that noted his fishing prowess.
But when no one was looking, he smoothed the scrunched edges of the paper. He kept his face pointed toward his lap, but he was staring at the award, pressing it into his knees with his elbows.
Nothing left to chance
Principal Sherri Kelty is, by her own description, pretty gutsy.
She leads a school where every child has a mental illness — or more than one. Conditions that can make the children hallucinate, hear voices, feel suicidal or suffer extreme mood swings.
You don’t get to Indian Ridge School unless your condition is so severe no other public school can help you.
But Kelty has tried to make Indian Ridge as normal as possible, adding a prom and graduation ceremonies since she took over about four years ago.
“Life has a lot to offer them. They just don’t know.”
But a camping trip? Even Kelty hesitated. How would her students handle it?
It took three years and music therapist Tom Dalton to wear her down. Dalton joined Indian Ridge this year after working for Hospice, where he led camps for Hospice families.
But those camps didn’t require planning every minute of every day. They didn’t need an on-call psychiatrist. They didn’t involve the screening of every bag to make sure no drugs or weapons were stashed inside.
Although the school has fewer than 100 students from kindergartners to 22-year-olds, it has its own school police officer and metal detectors. Kids can be violent or withdrawn and they might have to be restrained. Some need their own aide all day. There are nearly as many staff as students, including three crisis-intervention teachers and six counselors. At camp, staff outnumbered students, and the list of student medications took 197 lines — for just 63 kids.
“We cannot leave anything to chance,” Indian Ridge therapist Deri Dinnan said.
But that didn’t mean she and Dalton weren’t a little nervous about the two-day sleepover.
“They’re going to have to learn to adjust to change,” Dinnan said. “That’s what they’re going to have to do their whole life.”
Under the influence of sugar
They called their adventure “Camp Hope.”
When the buses pulled into J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management area from the Lake Worth school, Kelty watched the throng go from orderly to chaotic back to orderly again as the kids crowded into the main cabin.
One kid’s T-shirt read: “I used to have super human powers, but my therapist took them away.”
“I know we will have a phenomenal experience here,” Kelty said.
Then she went inside to reassure the kids.
“Like other things we do at Indian Ridge, this is a test. It’s kind of on you. You ought to be proud of yourselves that the staff thought you could do it,” she told them. “Although we have talked about camp for the last three years, we have never been able to get it done.”
Then they did fun camp things, just normal stuff: Crafts, canoeing, fishing. And, of course, making s’mores over a campfire.
Rising 10th-grader Bradley Svitak’s mom was worried about sending him to camp, although she wanted him to go.
Bradley, 14, has Asperger’s syndrome, an illness related to autism. He has trouble making eye contact and sometimes overtakes conversations, steering them to his own interests, like fantasy video games. Sometimes, he’s really loud.
Around the campfire, when kids poked marshmallows onto skewers, he rushed to the table with the other ingredients — graham crackers and Hershey bars — and leaned forward to get the attention of the teacher.
“Someone burned four marshmallows at once,” he said. “I want to try it.”
Bradley’s been at Indian Ridge since the end of his fifth-grade year. Last year, for the first time, Bradley changed classes for different subjects. He was so excited about the prom he made sure the timing worked out so that his braces came off beforehand. At camp, he thought to introduce his buddy, Nick Van Pelt, to someone he’s just met.
Other boys his age might worry about these same things — friends, prom, braces. But when you’re Bradley, you do things with more vigor.
After the campfire, during a karaoke session, Bradley sang and danced with the other kids.
“I’m under the influence of sugar,” he said with a smile, then he paused and rubbed his forearm over his glistening brow.
But in one corner of the room, Willie was sitting in a chair by himself, crying. He was allowed to go on like that for a moment, then in-school suspension teacher Ozzie Garcia went to him and they bumped fists.
Then came the group’s most-requested song, R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.”
“If I can see it, then I can do it. … ’cause I believe in me.”
Suddenly, the entire room melted together, a mass of linked arms, swaying shoulders, and heads resting on one another.
“Are we having fun yet?” therapist Dalton asked.
Willie wasn’t crying anymore.
New year, new challenges
Some of Indian Ridge’s kids will transfer to regular high schools when school starts on Aug. 16. They’ve told their teachers that the best part of their time at Indian Ridge was Camp Hope.
Some of the teachers think so, too. Their hearts were won over by seeing kids like Willie, Bradley and Summer Smith blossom. Before coming to Indian Ridge, Summer Smith’s mental illness made her so afraid, it kept her from leaving home for four years.
“It’s a fun place to come and hang out,” said Summer, who will be a sophomore this year. “I haven’t done this stuff before. Not that I can remember.”
Camp Hope proved to be as uplifting as its name.
“Next year,” Principal Kelty said, “we’ll hire the canoe guy for two days.”
Friday, Jul. 28, 2006
Even if the subject was merely combining numbers to come up with a total, Homer High School math instructor Francie Roberts would make it come alive for her students. So says her former student, Homer High School 10th-grader Clinton Edminster.
“It could be addition and she’d be so enthusiastic,” said Edminster who was in Roberts’ geometry class during his freshman year.
To show his appreciation, Edminster nominated Roberts for a BP Exploration (Alaska) Teacher of Excellence award. Roberts also was nominated by coworker Dianne Spence, who teaches United States and world history at HHS.
The nominations did the trick. Roberts, as well as six other teachers in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, were recognized for their positive impact on peninsula students.
“I nominated her for several reasons,” Spence said. “One, as a fellow teacher she has always been a strong voice for teachers. She’s incredibly supportive of coworkers.”
As a parent, Spence had another reason to appreciate Roberts’ teaching ability.
“She was my son’s teacher and motivated him like nobody else,” Spence said. “He was always very comfortable in her classes.”
According to the school grapevine, Spence knows she and Edminster aren’t the only ones that think highly of Roberts.
“Teachers tend to hear a lot of student comments about other teachers, whether they want to or not, and I’ve never heard a negative word about Francie from students or teachers,” Spence said.
Ron Keffer, HHS principal, also had high praise for Roberts.
“She is one of the very best teachers I’ve ever worked with,” Keffer said. “When kids get into her classroom, they understand what they’re doing. The kids just love her class, love what she does with them and they really work hard for her. When you get kids wanting to please you and work that hard to try to please you in a math class, boy, you’re really doing the job.”
Roberts, who has been a math instructor at HHS for 14 years, considers teaching her second career. Prior to that, she worked as a meteorologist for the National Weather Service for 18 years.
“Math is an interesting subject. It’s the language of science and science is important in our world today,” Roberts said. “You have to understand math to help with the problems of the world.”
Seeing the connection between meteorology and math, Roberts said, “Think of global warming. Everything we know about weather utilizes mathematics.”
Stepping into the area of technology, Roberts said, “You can buy a software program today that you can talk to your computer and it will write down what you say. That’s all done with mathematics.”
As Edminster recognized, Roberts uses her own enthusiasm to inspire her students.
“I think you have to really like what you’re doing. If you don’t like it, it doesn’t work. I just think (math) is fun and there are a lot of fun things you can do with mathematics in a classroom,” she said. “I would never say that all learning is exciting and fun. Sometimes you just have to learn it to learn it, but I keep trying to make it fun.”
BP Exploration (Alaska) introduced the Teachers of Excellence program in Anchorage and Fairbanks in 1996, and later extended it to include the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the Kenai Peninsula. Recognizing teachers for their outstanding efforts at the elementary, junior and senior high school levels in private as well as public schools, the program gives honorees a monetary award and plaque.
Nomination automatically qualifies the teachers for the Teacher of the Year Award, with one named for each of the four areas.
The Kenai Peninsula 2006 BP Teacher of the Year is Mike Druce of Soldotna High School. Other Teachers of Excellence from the Kenai Peninsula include James Bennett, Mountain View Elementary School; Wayne Clark, Seward High School; Lynn Dusek, Redoubt Elementary School; Barbara Ralston, Sears Elementary School; and Kathleen Thompson, Soldotna Ele-mentary School.
Roberts used her financial award of $500 to buy a piece of interactive equipment for her classroom. With it, a student can remain at his or her desk and solve a math problem on a surface that has a wireless connection to a board in front of the classroom, on which the steps are displayed for the benefit of the entire class.
It isn’t just her love of math or teaching that adds a spark to Roberts’ classroom style.
“I love teaching high school kids,” Robert said. “Some people sort of stay way from them, but their energy is very, very communicable. I enjoy high school kids a lot.”